Heater, Mother of Lance


Sometimes I am overwhelmed with the feeling of wanting to tell Leta how remarkably stunning she is. Every parent I know feels this way about their kids, that their children are undeniably beautiful, but I’m often told that I shouldn’t use such quantifiers because she will grow up thinking that her sense of self is directly tied to her beauty, that if I keep commenting on her looks she will learn to think that beauty is more important than it actually is. But when I comb her hair into pigtails and the ends curl in perfect circles under her chin, it is hard to hold back the truth, that she takes my breath away.

Jon likes to tell Leta that she is smart. And she is, she can count to ten in Spanish and put together a 30-piece puzzle. But is this any better than telling her that she is beautiful? Smart is not a neutral quantifier either, and when I was an awkward teenager with crooked teeth and a padded bra I worried just as much about how smart I was as I did over whether or not I would ever have a good hair day.

I’m not so sure it’s a bad thing that we tell her that she is beautiful or smart, as long as she knows we love her despite those things. They have no bearing on how much we love her. The bigger challenge is making her feel and understand something that has taken me a lifetime to learn, something I would have rather heard than any comment on my looks or intelligence. I want her to know that she will always be good enough.

  • cagey

    2006/05/24 at 9:22 am

    Well put. I have written a little myself about this “beautiful” topic because I get SO MANY comments on my son from perfect strangers. It’s awkward for me because I was so NOT that “cute little girl” in pigtails.

    I guess the ultimate question concerns how to best raise a child with a healthy self-esteem while taming the raging inner ego that lurks in all children before society (AKA junior high school) beats it down.


  • carrisa

    2006/05/23 at 10:48 am

    Beautiful post. Beautiful daughter. I think you should always tell her that. And that she’s smart. And that babies from outer space. You know… the important stuff.

  • BigA

    2006/05/23 at 10:48 am

    I don’t know how she couldn’t. You give her the gift of writing about her all the time and the love shows through everytime.

  • Urs

    2006/05/23 at 10:49 am

    there is nothing wrong in telling your child that he/she is beautiful. once in a while it wouldn’t hurt. i think it would be awful for you NOT to tell her.

  • trublu76

    2006/05/23 at 10:50 am

    It’s not a bad thing at all. You’re not telling her she is beautiful and because of her beauty she can have anything she wants, she doesn’t have to be everything she can be, and that she shouldn’t be smart or funny.
    You’re telling her she is beautiful, which is one of the many qualities that makes her who she is. Boosting her self esteem is wonderful. Do it as much as you want, tell her she’s beautiful, she’s brilliant, she’s funny, she’s talented… and tell her often.

  • carrisa

    2006/05/23 at 10:51 am

    babies come* from outer space… i’m sure you got what i meant

  • blurb

    2006/05/23 at 10:51 am

    It should be clear that she gets both the beauty and the brains from her mother.

    Beautiful post, Heather. Beautiful.

  • rivetergirl

    2006/05/23 at 10:52 am

    I just got back from my daughter’s kindergarten graduation. She was singled out because she can read at a level 20 (when most kindergarteners read at a level 2). She won numerous academic awards.

    She was also the only student to be picked to sing a solo part in one of their songs. She started beautifully then got nervous and started to cry.

    Afterward she told me that she was disppointed in herself because she cried during the song.

    But yet when a friend told her that she was the smartest kid in the class, I quanitified it and stressed that she not be measured by other kids but by her own accomplishments on their own.

    She’s amazing in so many ways, I’m humbled by her.

  • Linds

    2006/05/23 at 10:53 am

    Heather, the fact that you even worry about or consider this proves what a good mother you are! You do have a beautiful daughter, and there is nothing wrong with telling her that.

  • becky

    2006/05/23 at 10:54 am

    Every post, every photo, they ooze love and goodness.

  • gypsy

    2006/05/23 at 10:54 am

    This is precisely right, and it is what parents miss, tragically, 90 percent of the time.

    Self esteem is fine — but it needs to be something that reflects personal confident, not entitlement. Help your kid to learn to EARN self esteem. THat’s for HER. As far as you’re concerned, her knowlege that she is always good enough and that YOU think she’s beautiful, smart, all you could ask for, is exactly right.

    Prisons are full of people with high self esteem. This is because they believe they deserve, by virtue of WHO THEY ARE (for whatever reason) to do, take, or say whatever they want. THis is the dangerous kind of self esteem — the kind that is behind brats, or worse, criminals.

  • KillCreek

    2006/05/23 at 10:54 am

    Love it, Dooce! I struggle with this one too, as I find myself telling my daughter how pretty she is all the time!

    I think above all else, you are right, the most important thing is that she knows her parents love her no matter what. And adding all of the compliments on top can’t hurt, in my opinion. 🙂 She is a very beautiful girl!

  • Billygean.co.uk

    2006/05/23 at 10:56 am

    I have always thought that. They are both genetic after all, and you can work to change both of them equally well. It is also about what you strive to be, I think, not, for example, how selfless you are by nature, but how selfless you desire to be; teach that one is loved despite natural qualities, and is loved for qualities gained.

    Sigh, it has been an emotional blogging week!


  • Kacey

    2006/05/23 at 10:56 am

    Well said Dooce. Pride in your children is a wonderful thing, and there is no doubt you are the proudest mama you can be.

  • Ms. Huis Herself

    2006/05/23 at 10:55 am

    Ah, if I wouldn’t have had to create an account so I could delurk, I might have been first… Anyway, thanks for sharing your trials, tribulations & fun with us all. Your Leta (who is about 6 months older than my Pumpkin)is a joy to hear about. While you can and should tell her she’s smart & beautiful & all, it’s also important to recognize what she DOES. I mean, you can’t really control what you start with genetically, but you can work hard, be kind, make jokes, etc. Recognizing her positive choices (ok, maybe she’ll “get it” more when she’s older! *grin*), encourages her to continue to do them.
    There’s my $0.02 anyway! (And BTW, Dooce, you write entertaining & often insightful entries!)

  • Michelle~in~Memphis....ugh

    2006/05/23 at 10:55 am

    I think it is wonderful to give your child complements from your heart. The more confidence she has at home, the more she will have out in the world.

  • Julie

    2006/05/23 at 10:57 am

    Heather, this was beautiful. I’m sure that Leta will always know that because you and Jon are her parents. But cheers to you for figuring out so early on something that some parents never get.

    And I’m with you – telling Leta that she is pretty and smart are never bad things. Because she is both. 🙂

  • k8

    2006/05/23 at 10:57 am

    absolutely. tell her she’s beautiful and tell her she’s smart. and tell her that even though those things are true that what’s most important is that she tries. then her beauty and her brains will combine with her effort to make her unstoppable.

  • Ramona

    2006/05/23 at 10:59 am

    If/when Leta reads these entries, she’ll know that you think the world of her, stunning looks and all.

  • milkmaid

    2006/05/23 at 10:59 am

    A well rounded kiddo NEEDS to hear both…and of course all the other good stuff in life.

    A great post…as usual.

  • kalisah

    2006/05/23 at 11:03 am

    amen, Sister Sledge. I wish someone just once tried to make me feel “good enough.” I think it’s the single most important thing that I’m teaching my son.

  • anna nic

    2006/05/23 at 11:04 am

    there’s nothing wrong with telling her she’s beautiful or smart as long as it’s not way too over the top.

    As for our family, we say my son’s cute all of the time, but we concentrate more on real interaction and encouragement with him. Lots of “good job”, “great effort”, etc.

    I guess if you feel weird about telling her SHE’s beautiful all of the time, you could say THAT’s beautiful. As in, aren’t the ponytails beautiful and doesn’t your sweater look great, accentuating things involved with her and not her specifically all of the time.

  • Stellabella

    2006/05/23 at 11:05 am

    I don’t have a kid, but I do have a kickass dog, and this is what I tell her: “Mabel, you are so pretty and nobody catches a ball like you do, and you’re good at math. But most important, you’re not stuck up.” Feel free to use that whenever you’d like.

  • Erin

    2006/05/23 at 11:06 am

    I tell my 7-week old daughter that she’s a beautiful girl about every 5 minutes. And I find myself quickly adding, “And so smart, too!”

    This was a great post. I can relate on so many levels.

  • VinnyGirl

    2006/05/23 at 11:09 am

    Beautiful can mean more than beauty itself. And besides she needs to know she is beautiful. I know I still love (and probably need) to hear it.

    Great post. It’s nice to know there are mothers out there that think like you do.

  • Pixie

    2006/05/23 at 11:09 am

    You are an amazing mother.

  • ProudMary

    2006/05/23 at 11:09 am

    I can think of no better thing than a little girl growing up to believe that she is smart and beautiful.

  • jes

    2006/05/23 at 11:09 am

    Heather, THANK YOU FOR THAT LAST SENTENCE. Because I think that is the most important part, that Leta will ALWAYS be good enough. That is something that I still struggle with, and I am nearly 28.

    There are so many things that you teach Leta that I wish my parents would have taught me.

  • crumb

    2006/05/23 at 11:09 am

    My family told me I was smart, beautiful, and loved, and it got me through some crap years growing up and even in my adulthood. Self-worth is an important gift you have the power to give her. Keep it up!

  • Jenski

    2006/05/23 at 11:11 am

    I think telling girls TOO often that they are cute/pretty/beautiful can be dangerous. I know this because I’ve read lots of books about the subject-how girls become obsessed or preoccupied with their appearance because their appearance is what gets them so much attention. Haven’t we all heard stories about models or acctresses who are gorgeous but feel ugly? It’s because if you learn that your value is associated with your appearance, your self worth is too caught up in things you have little control over-external factors. Yes, of course you can balance out your comments with ones that praise her intelligence, behavior, work that she has done-but be careful. Let her know that she is beautiful to you but don’t overemphasize it. Give her attention for what she does (and doesn’t do), not so much for what she looks like.

  • dre

    2006/05/23 at 2:55 pm

    Every person needs to hear that they are beautiful and smart – especially from their parents! It’s when kids are taught that they are better than other people because of it, that it becomes a problem.

    It was a strange revelation when I finally realized that my parents were just people and not super-heroes. Depsite their mistakes, one thing my sister and I ALWAYS believed growing up is that we are good enough! I will be forever grateful to my parents for giving us self-esteem and self-worth.

  • tk

    2006/05/23 at 2:54 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with telling her how beautiful she is. Or how smart she is. Or how much you love her. I think the people that do their children the biggest disservice in this world are the ones who don’t compliment their children or hug or kiss them enough etc. You don’t strike me as the type that will spoil their child and turn them into a rotten little monster that thinks the whole world revolves around them. Now those are the kids that are going to be fucked up. I have a couple cousins that are perfect examples of this. One of whom I’d like to kick in the ass and tell her to smarten the hell up. She’s had every advantage in the world and still treats her entire family like shit.

    Hell, I even know parents that have kids that get pissed off when they don’t get their way and then they tell their parents that they hate them. You want to know what the parent’s response is? “I hate you too!!”. How awful is that!!!!

    I did not get to comment on your previous entry before you closed comments on it. I hope that your Aunt Lola is doing well and hope she will be feeling better soon. That video of Leta was completely precious.


  • mayersquare

    2006/05/23 at 2:43 pm

    I can’t find anything wrong with providing your child with a good self-image and confidence! Everyone loves to hear that they are beautiful and smart…..goes back to the old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all”, and I think those things definitely qualify! Kudos!

  • aylaofnopeople

    2006/05/23 at 2:27 pm

    This makes me want a kid, as much as I’ve always said I loathe children in their entirety and vowed never to have any of my own.

  • Keb

    2006/05/23 at 2:38 pm

    I struggle with this issue and my two daughters. I want them to know how beautiful, smart, funny, witty, caring, loving, etc they are. But I don’t want to raise little diva’s either. Thin, thin line me thinks.

  • Jackie

    2006/05/23 at 2:42 pm

    Really, your daughter is so lucky to have parents that worry about such things.

  • VickyTH

    2006/05/23 at 2:23 pm

    Being told you’re beautiful by your mother is not the same as being told you are beautiful by a neutral third party, as we all know. Your mother, when she says that you’re beautiful, is talking about the whole you, including the parts that much of the world never sees. Keep telling her she’s beautiful. She’ll need to know that someone who really knows her thinks she is, at some point.

  • Charlie

    2006/05/23 at 2:18 pm

    When I kiss my kids good night and tell them that I love them, I make it a point to compliment each one on something new every day. Sometimes it’s as basic as “you really made me laugh hard at dinner time” or “thanks for being so sweet to your grandma” or even something like: “I think you fart louder than I can scream.” The point is to find something that they DIDN’T work at and say “that was really good.”

  • laura

    2006/05/23 at 2:14 pm

    I simply want to say that as a woman whose Mom has always made her feel that I’m never good enough, the last line in your entry made me cry. Leta is such a lucky girl to have a Mom with such unconditional love. It’s something I’ve always said I will instill in my children, the idea that I love them no matter what they turn out to be. It’s a sentiment I’ve come to accept I will never get from my mother.

    My mom stated to me a few months ago that her only dream for me was to get a college degree (I’m about 4 credits short of one with hopes to finish it soon). I simply wanted to respond to her “I wish your dream for me, Mom, was simply that I be happy and healthy.” I didn’t have the energy or gumption to say it, though. So that is my quiet, internal plea whenever I think about that conversation; I want her to just love me for who I am and rejoice in the fact that I am happy and healthy.

  • Jill Murray

    2006/05/23 at 2:09 pm

    Why is this post making me tear up? I’m not even PMS. Damn you Heather B. Armstrong! (OK, not really.)

  • Sandra Heikkinen

    2006/05/23 at 2:12 pm

    It’s hard, I think, to raise children (daughters especially) who are confident in their smarts, looks…everything…without raising them to be cocky. Sounds like you’re getting the balance right.

  • Nikki Jeske

    2006/05/23 at 2:14 pm

    That is a wonderful philosophy.

  • DG

    2006/05/23 at 2:08 pm

    I haven’t a single memory of my mother telling me that she thought I was beautiful, not even on my wedding day. I know that sounds awful, but she was a good mom, if a little demanding sometimes. I know that she didn’t want me to grow up vain, or hung up on looks. I think it made me more insecure, actually, because your parents are your only mirrors as a kid. You’re not old enough to have an opinion about what you look like, and no one’s going to tell you if you’re a pretty 7 year old. Most of my friends grew up with parents who complimented them, and they would just roll their eyes and think “of course she thinks I’m pretty, she’s my mom!” But I feel like that allowed them to move on, and laid a foundation for confidence in themselves and the traits that would really matter later. I’ve always been much too hung up on it, obsessing about certain features, always feeling like the odd duckling in a room full of confident women. As an Asian girl growing up in a mostly white community, that’s not an easy thing to deal with. I’ve pretty much made up my mind that when I have kids I’ll tell them they’re beautiful, as I’m sure they will be to me!

    So yeah, Dooce, I’d tell Leta. I’d have a hard time not telling her!

  • Be Still

    2006/05/23 at 2:02 pm

    I’m a firm believer in telling my child how handsome, smart, kind and simply wonderful he is. I do it often and unconditionally. That’s what we all deserve from our parents but rarely get.

    A child needs a safe harbor in a frequently cruel world. That is what a home represents to us.

    In this culture, people are constantly bombarded with messages about their inadequacy. I see my actions as merely balancing the scale.

  • schadenfreudette

    2006/05/23 at 1:58 pm

    oops. is it bad then that i get my 4 year old to eat broccolli by telling her it will make her smart AND pretty?

    i do know what you mean though. i was told so often about how smart i was growing up, it was hard to identify myself beyond that, and it became integral to my self worth. i just try to make sure to compliment my daughters (age 3 and 4) on non-conventional things too.

    they get praise for being unique, silly, funny, weird, pathological, clever, clean, messy, all of it.

  • LawLawChelle

    2006/05/23 at 1:59 pm

    I tell my daughter she’s beautiful all the time, as well as as smart, loving, etc. My mom never commented on my looks except in the negative. She believed she should focus on my intellect instead. When I was in junior high I asked her if I was pretty and she said, “You’re no Miss America.” So I thought I was ugly. Imagine my surprise when I got my first “real” job and the older women started saying I was hired because of my looks. ha! Those old cows thought I was pretty, and that my looks were more overwhelming than my overly-praised intellect? I could have kissed them all. One thing I do tell my daughter, though, is that everyone has a different idea of beautiful, and that it’s the way some people like chocolate ice cream and some people like vanilla. I think this is really important. And true.

  • Elise

    2006/05/23 at 1:51 pm

    Beauty and brains are definitely the accessories that make life a whole lot easier. But I think that qualities like patience, honesty, intellectual curiosity, the ability to take risks and courage are what parents should really value about their children. How do you teach these values in today’s world?

  • Heather Tinsley

    2006/05/23 at 1:57 pm

    I just had to comment and send you a huge BRAVA Dooce. I completely, 100%, wholeheartedly agree with what you said in your post today. It is good and right to reinforce a child’s knowlege of his or her natural gifts, and it is equally good and right that the child knows that he or she is valuable simply for being the unique being they are. We all could use some parenting like that, even as adults!

    I also think (warning warning completely unsolicited advice coming discard if not helpful) that this kind of parenting is especially good when there is more than one child in a family, so kids don’t start falling into family “roles.” It always hurt me that my parents didn’t appreciate the musical talent I had, which, though small in comparison to my sister’s, was still there.

  • Kari

    2006/05/23 at 1:50 pm

    Tell her as many times as it takes for her to believe it. I recently found journals from my teens and I’m shocked at how low my self-esteem was. Not that my parents didn’t tell me enough or told me too much that I was smart and beautiful…but I was probably 25 before I believed it.

    Lot of wasted years not feeling good enough.

  • sasha

    2006/05/23 at 1:34 pm

    My mom tells me all the time to stop telling my boys how gorgeous they are. I don’t know where people get the notion that you can hurt a child with too much love. I tell them that they’re smart, funny, creative, and beautiful. I also tell them that I love them when they make me angry, and that I love them when they’re angry with me. I also tell them when they’re fucking up or pissing me off. All in the name of good communication. They seem to get the message.

    And one more thing…life is often kinder to beautiful people…we automatically assign qualities like smart, kind, friendly to those who are good-looking. Lucky for your daughter (and you, too, for that matter) to be so damned gorgeous.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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